“Like This So I Know I’m Real,” Bethlehem Shoals in Hazlitt (2/24/16):
Our sense of self-worth — on the Internet and perhaps beyond, insofar as the structure of the web is increasingly the structure of our daily lives — comes not from whether or not our actions are judged in a positive light but by whether they are noticed and judged at all. The idea of spectacle or stunt is nothing new, but theyâ€™ve always been regarded as a stretch, a desperate ploy to get oneself seen no matter the impetus or eventual consequences. The need to be â€œliked,â€ as opposed to admired or well-regarded, is that same philosophy popularized, defanged, and accepted as a necessary part of mass culture. Itâ€™s akin to â€œany publicity is good publicity.â€
We might not care to admit it, but such cynicism has become the price of admission. Thereâ€™s no value judgment, no good or bad, only a value-neutral proposition that precedes any actual opinion. The fallacy of Facebookâ€™s new options is exposed in the interface itself: All still fall under the rubric of â€œlike,â€ as if emotional tenor is secondary to the decision to react in the first place. Regardless of how we feel, we must first make that all-important commitment to feel something…
But the basic, harsh truth of the Internet is that seeing and being seen remain the only ways to feel like youâ€™re participating in the first place. We donâ€™t exist because we will ourselves into being — we exist because others deign to notice. All we can do is try our best to strike a balance between saying what needs to be said and caring too much about what others will â€œlikeâ€ — which is to say, whether they â€œlikeâ€ (and like) us at all.